How IATSE’s Strike Threat Sets the Stage for Hollywood Guilds’ Coming Fight Over Streaming

”Our rights and our benefits have been slowly eroded and we haven’t kept up,“ SAG-AFTRA L.A. local VP David Jolliffe says

It’s typical for Hollywood’s labor unions to support for each other during labor disputes, but the support for IATSE during its current contract dispute with film and TV producers goes beyond the usual labor solidarity. That’s because the below-the-line workers’ union could be setting a standard for all future Hollywood contracts in the streaming era.

On Monday, tens of thousands of IATSE members voted to authorize union leaders to declare a strike if necessary as union leaders return to negotiations on Tuesday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). IATSE is pushing for a hard limit on the number of hours a production can shoot per day to allow for reasonable rest periods during lunch breaks and on weekends, as well as higher wages for the lowest paid positions and on streaming projects.

For other Hollywood unions like the Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, streaming compensation will be a major issue during the next round of bargaining agreement talks in 2023. It was an issue that was expected to be addressed during last year’s talks, but was largely tabled due to the turbulence inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But WGA West member Brenden Gallagher said he expects his guild will push hard for studios to pay up on streaming projects as a flurry of new services like HBO Max and Apple TV+ have turned new media, as the AMPTP calls it, into the new normal.

“The issues impacting IATSE are impacting all the other guilds, especially residuals and conditions around streaming,” he said. “The studios want to lower rates and push on the sort of things that labor groups have fought for, and they see streaming as a new medium that can disrupt all that.”

For WGA members who were around during the 2007 writers’ strike, the deal made on digital media compensation remains a sore spot. Prior to the strike, the AMPTP had reached a deal with the Directors Guild that offered just 2% of gross receipts for ad-supported streaming and 1.2% of gross receipts for rentals. That precedent prevented WGA from pushing for a better offer.

But Gallagher believes that if IATSE is able to significantly improve on compensation for streaming projects, it could send a message to studios that Hollywood’s entire labor force is united in demanding a similar increase in wages and residual payments.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • • Twitter: @jeremyfuster